Recently Grant and I had the pleasure of an informal, last-minute dinner with friends in our backyard. It was one of those evenings when the temperature was just right, a slight breeze, the sun beginning to set. The friends who joined us are the young Ukrainian couple living in our garage apartment. This August will mark a year as our neighbors. Soon after their arrival we counted them as friends. They are incredibly nice to be around. Funny. Kind. Generous. I marvel at their ability to adapt to so much, so soon, under such difficult circumstances.

Often our exchanges are brief, a wave as they come and go, a few sentences as we pass each other in the driveway. Grant has spent a good bit of time with the husband of this couple, doing woodworking projects in the garage, taking trips to the place where you can salvage car parts for cheap, helping navigate taxes. I’ve not had as much opportunity to check in with them given their work schedules and mine. Hence, it was a gift to have unrushed time around the table.

We learned that her mother recently had surgery and is doing alright, having not told her daughter about it until it was over. We learned that a former classmate of theirs, a young man who worked in theatre, mostly doing operas, was killed in combat. We learned that one of the two has had a change in immigration status that will allow a little more time in the US, but at a cost of $10,000 and the restriction of working for the singular employer who helped foot the bill. We learned that they would both like more work. We learned that they, of course, miss their families. We learned about the $3 sunhat purchased at Goodwill. We learned that they speak Russian to our dog who clearly relished the attention no matter the language.

We also learned that the wife of the pair knows a great deal about plants, flowers, and herbs. She learned from her mother who has a very green thumb. She pointed out the rosemary in our backyard that I didn’t know existed. She gave me some ideas for how to use the abundance of mint. They both marveled at how fast things grow here, how green everything is. Then we talked about the birds. Crows (ravens), sparrows (google translate was enlisted) and pigeons (doves) are common in their homeland, but cardinals are an entirely new experience. We laughed and lingered as the sun went down.

It was a reminder of the universal importance of beauty, especially when ignoring the terrible is impossible. It was also a reminder of the power of breaking bread together, of the miraculous way strangers become friends. It was a reminder of God’s goodness that brings moments of unquestionable joy even in seasons of ongoing sorrow. It was a reminder of the abundance of blessings right in our backyards.